Keywords are words and phrases on your website that relate to terms users type into search queries. Keywords affect your SEO based on placement and usage.
Today’s SEO lesson is about keywords and how to use them. I have to admit, finding decent information on the subject without being sold a tool was frustrating. At one point I felt like no one wanted to explain this idea to beginners. Either way, after way too much time with Google, I was finally able to comfortably grasp the concept.
To recap, we’re talking about keywords because they’re an important component to how search engines work and how they determine page rank. Remember, the bulk of SEO comes from other websites linking to you. Keywords, however, are something you can control – that’s why it’s important to know what they are and where to put them.
Here are the main things you need to understand about keywords:
- Keywords are words or phrases on a webpage that relate to a specific topic.
- Search engine crawlers use patterns to determine how your page should be indexed.
- Keyword placement is an important part of search engines recognizing a certain topic or keyword.
- While keywords are important, writers should focus more on the visitor than search engines.
Keywords are a lot like speed bumps. If you’re driving through a pedestrian-filled parking lot while texting your best friend and turning up the radio, a jolt from a speed bump reminds you where you’re at and what you should be focused on – not trampling children with your vehicle.
So, like speed bumps, keywords are a way to help remind readers and crawlers what your webpage is about. These words and phrases provide context, which helps bring your content together and keeps visitors focused on the topic at hand. In other words, if you’re trying to sell potato chips, you need to say “potato chips” a few times in your content.
Now, let’s dig into keywords to better understand their relation to SEO. Again, all underlined terms are vocabulary words and can be found in the glossary at the bottom of this post.
What is a keyword, anyway?
There is a distinct difference between a keyword and a search term. Search terms are the words or phrases that people enter into a search query when trying to find information. Keywords, on the other hand, are the words and phrases on your website that match or relate to search terms. While this may seem like a small difference, it’s important to point out since it clarifies the search process – searchers are trying to find information, so you need to clearly identify that your content provides that information.
How do search engines and keywords work together?
Keep in mind that search engines aren’t people – they’re not going through your content and understandingit before indexing. Instead, automated crawlers scan through text to identify patterns. This is why it’s vital to your SEO health to insert keywords consistently throughout your content. Once a crawler is able to identify a pattern, it takes this pattern and adds it to the index. Then, when someone enters search terms related to this indexed pattern, the search engine can quickly pull the results from the index and use the keywords to determine relevancy.
A good piece of advice is to realize that search engines don’t have predetermined keywords. Since crawlers are only picking up on textual patterns, you’re ultimately the one deciding how search engines index your page in relation to a specific topic.
Where do I place my keywords?
My first thought was to say, “Put your keywords everywhere!” but don’t fall into that trap. Search engines are now much more attuned to keyword density and are turned off by keyword stuffing.
In regards to your content, it’s a good idea for keyword placement to be within your headline and at the beginning of the page. This allows crawlers to identify these patterns faster and indicates a heightened level of importance for these terms. This makes sense – if your headline and intro copy define the overall article, the phrases in this content are clearly significant.
Another thing to understand is that crawlers don’t scan through your webpage like a human. Instead, crawlers only look at your HTML code, which is why it’s important to optimize your meta tags.
Meta tags are callouts in the HTML that give information (meta data) about a certain webpage. While there are several different meta tags, here are the three main ones:
- Title tag: This isn’t technically a meta tag, but it’s an important one to mention. The title tag appears as text in the very top left corner of an internet browser. This tag is much like your headline and is extremely important because 1) search engines find this quickly and 2) it’s the text that appears on the search engine results page (SERP). This means that when users are browsing through search results, the clickable link is the text of your title tag. Incorporate keywords here – this is by far the most important tag for rankings.
- Meta description tag: The meta description is text that helps summarize the entirety of your content. Additionally, this description appears on the SERP, directly under the title tag text. This is important for users to better understand the page content and encourage them to click through. Most experts agree that the meta description isn’t weighed very heavily by major search engines, but it’s definitely helpful to readers.
- Meta keywords tag: Meta keywords are nothing more than a direct listing of your intended keywords within the meta data. Most search engines don’t consider meta keywords in relevancy ranking, so don’t fret over this one. Some smaller engines, however, will take a glance and it’s always a good practice to reinforce the keywords you’re gunning for.
It also helps to place keywords within the actual URL itself, like www.potatochips.com/how-to-make-potato-chips. Additionally, you can let your images help your SEO by incorporating keywords into your alt image tags.
How do I balance keyword usage between humans and search engines?
While you’re working hard to optimize your website for search engines, always keep your readers at the forefront. Search engines can’t purchase from you or refer your site to a friend. Thus, providing quality content that meets readers’ needs is key.
To help keep the balance, give your final document a quick read. If it’s obvious that you’re straining to throw in keywords, revisit the content. One helpful best practice is to only focus on 2-3 keywords per page. First, it allows you to keep your writing focused and to the point, and, secondly, it prevents search engines from recognizing too many textual patterns on a webpage. If this happens, the additional patterns dilute the main keywords you’re optimizing for.
Great. Now how do I figure out which keywords to use?
There are several tools that provide information in determining which keywords are most used and relevant. Before using these applications, however, you’ll want to brainstorm which words and phrases make good search terms for your products and website. Start off with a small list and then think of synonyms and various ways to build those terms out. It’s also a great idea to consult with people outside of your business to get a better view of how the general population would search for you. We’ll go through an in-depth look into keyword research in our next lesson.
Taking the time to carefully plan your keyword strategy can help make a positive difference in your rankings. Again, keywords aren’t the ultimate authority of your SEO livelihood, but having control over a piece of your SEO destiny is definitely worth clinging to.
Come back for the next stop in our SEO journey when we learn about keyword research! Also, check out the glossary from today’s lesson below.
-Matt Winn, Marketing Associate
SEO Glossary – Lesson Three: An Introduction to Keywords
- Keywords: Words or phrases on your website that match user search terms
- Search terms: Words or phrases people enter in search engines when looking for information
- Keyword density: The ratio of keywords on a page compared to the total amount of text on that page
- Keyword stuffing: The practice of excessively using keywords throughout tags and content in an effort for higher search ranking, often leading to penalties from search engines
- Meta tags: Tags within HTML code that provide information about the corresponding webpage
- Meta data: The information about a webpage gathered from its corresponding meta tags
- Title tag: An HTML tag that identifies the title of the page and appears in a web browser and SERP – important for keywords and SEO
- Meta description tag: Meta tag that provides short description/summary of the corresponding webpage
- Meta keywords tag: Meta tag used to illustrate specific keywords within a webpage
- Alt image tag: Text added to an image on a webpage to provide a written description of what the page represents
Learn SEO One Step at a Time Series:
Step One: An Important Introduction
Step Two: How Search Engines Work
Step Three: How Search Engines Rank Pages
Step Four: An Introduction to Keywords
Step Five: Keyword Research
Step Six: The Long Tail of SEO
Step Seven: Building a SEO Friendly Site
Step Eight: Link Building Basics
Step Nine: Basic SEO Measurement/Conclusion